18 December 2010

Two Filipino Issues With the Game of Football


The two most common issues I have heard among Filipino non-football fans over the course of my life are, and not necessarily in the order I present them: first, it takes an eternity to score a goal; and, second, they cannot understand the offside rule.

First, to the offside rule; other than this, everything else is pretty straightforward. To quote from Wikipedia, “...if a player is in an offside position when the ball is touched or played by a team mate, he may not become actively involved in the play. A player is in an offside position if he is closer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender, but only if the player is on his opponent's half of the field (pitch).”

The first sentence will be confusing, because the term “actively involved” is so open-ended and, therefore, subject to personal interpretation by officials, players and spectators. The second sentence, meanwhile, defines what an offside position is. Before anything else, for those who are novices to sport, a team’s half of the field is that which its players defend.

Take a look at the picture below:


In the picture above, player Red 1 is in an offside position because he is closer to the opposing team’s goal-line than the second to the last Blue defender. That puts him ahead of the offside line. Now consider the picture below:


In the picture above, Red 1 is no longer in an offside position because he is level with the defender on the offside line. I must point out here that an offside is supposed to be adjudged based on whether the receiver of the ball is in an offside position or not at the moment that the ball is passed rather than at the moment of its reception. Because a pass is completed within a mere split second, the offside rule is one of the most contentious among the rules of football.

The second most common statement I have been told over the years is that, in football, it takes an eternity to score a goal. This is hardly surprising considering that most who uttered this statement were basketball fans who had never made an effort to understand football. Basketball is, of course, a high-scoring game.

To watch a football match, one has to go with the ebb and flow of the game rather than just wait for a goal to be scored. In fact, some goalless draws can be totally fascinating. Watching a football game is like watching a movie. You cannot even make a quick dash to the washroom because that may be when a goal is scored.

Football is about time and space. A player who is attacking needs space because he will also have the time to receive the ball, look around for his teammates, size up the current situation within a split second and then decide to either pass or shoot at goal. For a player who is defending, it is exactly the opposite. His job is to deny his opponent the time and space that he needs.



When watching a football game, therefore, one has to follow the movements of both teams to see if gaps between defending players are opening up through which attacks can be launched. Passing the ball is only a means to create scoring chances. Therefore, a team that holds on more to the ball is not necessarily winning if it is unable to translate all that possession of the ball into chances.

To score goals, any team needs chances. Thus, judging the dominance of one team over another is not so much based on how long it holds onto the ball or the amount of its ball possession; rather, dominance is really judged on the basis of the number of clear scoring opportunities a team creates for itself.

By clear scoring opportunities, I refer to shots that can actually lead to goal. For starters, a shot must be of the sort that makes the ball travel towards the frame of the goal. Anything less accurate has no chance of becoming a goal, for obvious reasons. The shot must also have the right sort of power; else it becomes practice for the goalkeeper. Finally, it must be the sort that will make the goalkeeper exert himself; that is, force him to make a save.


Of course, creating chances is not the same as actually scoring them. Hence, the frequent reference to “finishing” or the ability to actually convert the chances created into goals. Look at the tribulations of Vietnam in the current Suzuki Cup. For all its territorial domination of opponents, what its team lacked was a player who could incisively finish the chances they were creating.

Anyone – even somebody who is not a football fan – who makes an effort to stay through a football match will quickly find out that long-awaited goals – along with chances and missed chances that come in between – can actually be as fascinating as a basketball game in which after one team scores, the other team is more or less expected to do likewise at the opposite end.

There also used to be misconception that football was a dangerous game. I have not heard this said for quite a while now. Injury statistics in the United States have shown that basketball – at least from the medical point of view – is actually more dangerous. In all fairness, basketball’s player base in the States is higher than that of football or what they call soccer. Having said that, the rise of the Soccer Mom phenomenon in the States was also partially because mothers wanted their children playing something other than native American sports.





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